Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Monday, May 28, 2007

Is This Responsible Spending of Taxpayer Dollars?

Is This Responsible Spending?

From December 2004 to the present, the Frank administration has paid a grand total of $30,863.33 to the politically connected public relations firm Jaffe Communications for work on the borough newsletter, press releases from the mayor’s office, and other promotional materials centered around Mayor Frank. This use of our tax dollars includes planned press releases and photo opportunities coordinated with the office of the governor of Alabama to promote Mayor Frank’s trip to the south in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, writing of the mayor’s State of the Borough address, and of the council members’ columns for the Quarterly. It does not include approximately $17,500 per year paid to Jaffe by Main Street Highland Park for its newsletter and general public relations. That money comes from the Business Improvement District, whose main source is an average $1,000 additional annual assessment, i.e., tax, on businesses in the designated area (Raritan Avenue, side streets off Raritan with commercial establishments, and parts of Woodbridge Avenue and Route 27).

Jaffe Communications Total Spending:

$2,500 for December 2004
$18,670 for 2005
$3,593.33 for 2006
$6,100 for 2007

Total: $30,863.33

For the eight months from December 2004 through July 2005, the borough paid Jaffe Communications $2,500 a month for what the official borough invoice simply states were “communications services.” The $2,500 per month for the first seven months of 2005 put the amount paid to Jaffe just at the state’s bid threshold of $17,500 per year. Vendor services above and beyond that amount are required to be put out to bid.

After being confronted at a public meeting about this spending, the administration began to itemize the list of services for which it was paying. Below are several examples of services rendered and their costs. You decide if this is responsible spending of hard working taxpayer dollars.

August 2005: Total of $832.50, with Jonathan Jaffe charging $75 per hour and his employees John Yocca and Laura Knutelsky charging $55 per hour:

These are only a few highlights of the items adding up to the $832.50 total:

Jaffe editing articles for the HP Quarterly, 100 minutes, $125.00
Yocca and Knutelsky writing articles on Centennial Park and Council Column for HP Quarterly, 90 minutes, $82.50
Yocca and Knutelsky revisions to Quarterly articles and email with Donna Como, 15 minutes, $13.75

October 2005: Total of $337.50, same rates as above. Highlights include:

Jaffe phone calls with Mayor Frank, 30 minutes, $37.50
Jaffe phone calls with Mayor Frank and reporters at Home News Tribune, Jewish State and other media plus coordination of photos with Alabama Governor’s Office, 80 minutes, $100
Jaffe development of press release regarding New Jersey Municipality Partnership effort (relating to Project Hope and Hurricane Katrina relief), 80 minutes, $100
Jaffe working with press offices in New Jersey and Alabama for quotes, messaging and approval and speaking with League of Municipalities Magazine for quotes, 60 minutes, $75
Jaffe phone calls with Star Ledger and other media to discuss League story (on Katrina trip), 20 minutes, $25

November 2005: Total of $894.58, same rates as above. Highlights include:

Jaffe wrote and edited four stories for HP Quarterly, 180 minutes, $225
Jaffe wrote story on renovations to Borough Hall and the Senior Center, 75 minutes, $93.75
Jaffe rewrote article on Woodbridge Avenue improvements, 60 minutes, $75
Jaffe wrote shuttle bus story for Quarterly, 60 minutes, $75
Jaffe wrote story on New Jersey Project Hope for Quarterly, 60 minutes, $75

March 2006 for communications services for Jan. 22-Feb. 22: Total of $440.83, same rates as above. Highlights include:

Jaffe wrote articles for HP Centennial Ad Journal, 80 minutes, $100
Jaffe wrote articles about two local artists for Century Celebration special edition, 90 minutes, $112.50
Yocca wrote press release for Century Celebration event, 120 minutes, $110

March 2006 for communications services for Dec. 22, 2005-Jan. 22, 2006: Total of $902.50, rates same as above. Highlights include:

Jaffe revised and edited Mayor Frank’s State of the Borough address, 180 minutes, $225
Jaffe edited Councilwoman Foster Dublin’s column for the Quarterly, 45 minutes, $56.25
Jaffe edited condensed version of Mayor Frank’s State of the Borough address for the Quarterly, 45 minutes, $56.25
Jaffe edited Nick Trasente story and Road Improvement Grant story for Quarterly, 60 minutes, $75
Yocca discussed missing Quarterly copy with Mayor and Jackie Stuart and edited Councilwoman Foster Dublin’s column for Quarterly, 90 minutes, $82.50
Yocca interviewed borough employees for story on Nick Trasente and revised Mayor’s State of the Borough for the Quarterly, 120 minutes, $110
Yocca emailed and interviewed borough employees for story on Nick Trasente and wrote an article on the Road Improvement Grants for the Quarterly, 120 minutes, $110
Yocca finished writing Nick Trasente and Road Improvement stories for Quarterly and emailed them to the Mayor and Jackie Stuart, 90 minutes, $82.50
Yocca communicated with Donna Como regarding Highland Park Ad Journal information, 30 minutes, $27.50
Yocca sorted and emailed documents and photos of Ad Journal to Donna Como, 90 minutes, $82.50

September 2006: Total of $2,250 for the design, printing, and town wide distribution of 7,000 programs for the borough and school board

January 2007: Total of $2,250 for mailing of Department on Aging shared brochure

January 2007: Total of $2,000 for mailing of Recreation Department shared brochure

February 2007: Total of $2,100 for three pages of the January issue of the Quarterly at the rate of $700 per page, specifically for messages by the Mayor and Council.

Note: All this information is available in the form of public documents at Borough Hall.

All of these services could be provided by either volunteers or by interns paid approximately $10 per hour, making use of our many talented residents in town, including high school and college students who could gain valuable work experience performing these tasks. Why isn’t the borough exploring these alternatives as cost savings measures? Why is the administration hiring a firm that publicly admitted in The Courier News to working for municipalities to “sell” redevelopment to their citizens, whose owner admits to having met Mayor Frank at a League of Municipalities meeting and having been impressed with her political takeover of Highland Park government eight years ago? Why was a supposedly humanitarian mission to the Gulf states after Hurricane Katrina organized to focus on photo opportunities, media attention, and individual quotes from the Mayor?

Is all this responsible spending of our money? You decide.